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The Brooklyn Bridge: A Story of Two Generations, Three People and One Finger

The Brooklyn Bridge, situated in New York, the preeminent city of the United States, despite its relatively recent construction 140 years ago, emerged as a pivotal historical landmark of the nation in 1946. Subsequently, it attained international recognition as a distinguished civil engineering marvel in 1972. As a paramount attraction for tourists in New York, it proudly holds the distinction of being the inaugural steel-constructed bridge worldwide. At its completion, it garnered acclaim as the eighth wonder of the world, justly earning its place among the seven grand architectural undertakings during the Industrial Revolution.

However, concealed behind this legendary bridge lies a tale of two generations, three individuals, and an extraordinary legacy of the Roebling family, which significantly influenced the destiny of the bridge. What poignant narratives unfold within their journey? John Augustus Roebling, born in Hamburg, a bustling seaport city in Germany, harbored a profound fascination for the artistry of bridges since his boyhood. His extensive travels to illustrious cities such as London, Paris, and Rome imprinted the impressions of each bridge indelibly upon his mind.

Following his matriculation from high school, John Roebling secured admission to the esteemed University of Berlin in Germany. There, he had the privilege of studying under the tutelage of the renowned philosopher Hegel. Driven by his passion for architecture, he embarked on a systematic exploration of bridge engineering during his college years.

Upon his graduation, the United States found itself in the throes of the second industrial revolution. Filled with fervor and ambition, John Roebling ventured across the ocean to establish his enterprise in the vibrant city of New York. Confronted with the surging tides of the Industrial Revolution era, Roebling, brimming with unwavering determination, conceived the audacious idea of constructing a bridge linking Brooklyn to Manhattan—an idea that had yet to be proposed. Undoubtedly, this plan represented a monumental challenge during that era.

Given the technological limitations of the period, numerous unresolved aerodynamic issues impeded bridge construction. Erecting such a lengthy bridge over New York’s East River seemed nearly insurmountable. The river, with its low elevation and perpetual exposure to the tempestuous winds, often bore the brunt of North Atlantic hurricanes. Consequently, constructing a bridge in this location posed an exceedingly formidable test. Architects of the time generally dismissed the notion of building a bridge, deeming it impractical, and instead advocated for an increased number of ferry services shuttling between Brooklyn and Manhattan Island.

However, John Roebling, defying prevailing consensus, steadfastly believed that a bridge could indeed span New York’s East River. In his quest to discover a more suitable site for bridge construction, he conducted repeated surveys along the riverbanks, ultimately focusing on a gently sloping area on the eastern side of Brooklyn. This locale marked the closest connection point between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Leveraging his extensive theoretical knowledge, Roebling boldly departed from traditional curved arch bridge designs and resolved to erect a cable-stayed suspension bridge. Employing premium-grade steel as the primary material and cement as the auxiliary component, Roebling, an ardent admirer of the Gothic architectural style left by his German forebears, ingeniously incorporated this fresh stylistic element into his bridge design.

Given the exorbitant cost of steel relative to other materials such as cement and granite, Roebling sought substantial support from governmental entities. With the assistance of New York City Mayor Rory Michael, Roebling dedicated 15 years to arduously championing the bridge project, overcoming unimaginable obstacles, and ultimately persuading Congress to endorse the construction plan.

In April 1869, this monumental undertaking commenced in earnest. The government rallied steel magnates and cement tycoons, securing their financial backing and provision of materials. The East River, which demarcates Manhattan and Brooklyn within New York City, posed a significant challenge due to its fluctuating water levels and variable width. Thus, determining the optimal bridge location assumed paramount importance, with site surveys constituting the initial imperative. Tragically, an accident unexpectedly occurred during this crucial phase.

On July 6, 1869, while John Roebling was surveying the terrain at the site, a ferry collision caused a timber pile to collapse, severely injuring his foot. Stubbornly refusing subsequent medical intervention, Roebling tragically succumbed to an acute bout of toxic tetanus within a mere fortnight, his heart filled with profound regret.

Building a bridge over New York’s East River had long been John Roebling’s cherished aspiration, tragically cut short as the project was poised to commence. Nevertheless, his legacy endured, inherited by his devoted servants and sons, who pledged to fulfill his final wishes.

News of John Roebling’s untimely demise reverberated widely, igniting a deluge of diverse opinions. Many conservative minds dismissed him as a mere “lunatic pursuing an impractical dream.” With his passing, an unfinished project loomed, seemingly devoid of any willing successors. Mayor Michael, besetwith the challenge of finding a suitable replacement, turned to John Roebling’s son, Washington Roebling.

Washington Roebling, a civil engineer like his father, had been actively involved in the bridge project from its inception. He possessed a deep understanding of his father’s vision and was determined to see it through to completion. Despite facing his own set of challenges, Washington took up the mantle of chief engineer and embarked on the arduous task of overseeing the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

One of the most significant challenges Washington Roebling faced was his own physical condition. In 1870, he suffered a debilitating illness known as caisson disease, or the bends, while working in the underwater caissons that supported the bridge’s towers. This condition, caused by prolonged exposure to pressurized air, left him partially paralyzed and unable to physically supervise the construction.

Undeterred by his condition, Washington Roebling refused to give up on the project. Confined to his bed, he devised an ingenious solution to continue his involvement in the bridge’s construction. Using a system of binoculars, a telescope, and a telephone, he communicated his instructions to his dedicated team of engineers, who implemented his plans on-site. Washington’s wife, Emily Warren Roebling, also played a pivotal role in the bridge’s construction, acting as his intermediary and relaying his messages to the workers.

Under Washington Roebling’s guidance, construction of the Brooklyn Bridge progressed steadily. The bridge’s iconic towers began to rise, and the intricate web of steel cables was meticulously constructed. The construction techniques employed by Roebling, such as the use of pneumatic caissons and steel wire suspension cables, were groundbreaking at the time and set new standards for bridge engineering.

After 14 years of tireless efforts, the Brooklyn Bridge was finally completed and opened to the public on May 24, 1883. The bridge quickly became a symbol of New York City and an engineering marvel admired worldwide. Its elegant design, spanning 1,595 feet (486.3 meters), made it the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time.

The legacy of the Roebling family and their remarkable achievement lives on in the Brooklyn Bridge. John Roebling’s visionary ideas, Washington Roebling’s unwavering determination, and Emily Warren Roebling’s instrumental role as a bridge between her husband and the construction team all contributed to the success of this monumental project.

Today, the Brooklyn Bridge stands as a testament to human ingenuity and perseverance. It continues to serve as a vital transportation link between Brooklyn and Manhattan, accommodating pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicles. Its iconic silhouette against the New York City skyline attracts millions of visitors each year, who come to admire its beauty and learn about the remarkable story behind its construction.

   But what can be done to ensure that the construction of the bridge is not hindered without affecting its Gothic architectural style? Little Roblin often couldn’t sleep at night because of this.
   The bridge technology at that time had limitations. Although Roebling had many considerations, he finally decided to use a truss structure. This could not change the pointed arch tower in the plan, but he had to use the commonly used caisson method. , to solve the bridge’s tower foundation problem.
   The so-called caisson method is to put a huge caisson in the river when the bridge is being built. During the operation, Little Roebling put on a diving suit together with the workers, dived to the bottom of the river, fixed the huge airtight box in the water, injected compressed air into it, and then built the bridge tower on the caisson.
  Due to the impact of compressed air on the human body, little Roebling also suffered from “caisson disease” (also known as diver’s disease), which resulted in paralysis. “Caisson disease” is now commonly known as “decompression sickness”, which generally refers to diseases caused by the rapid decrease of pressure in the surrounding environment.
   But at the time, people didn’t understand this. It is generally believed that this was because people had to enter the inflatable caisson and clean the river bottom sediment until the caisson was completely sunk into the bedrock. It may be a disease caused by people working too hard in the caisson.
  At that time, not only little Roebling, but more than two dozen workers also suffered from the disease, and many were paralyzed or even died. This immerses the bridge under construction in a mysterious and strange atmosphere.
  The disabled and strong couple’s “double act” turned into a miracle.
   Little Roblin insisted on diving with the workers. They overcame many difficulties and finally completed the construction of the pointed arch tower. But after many “caisson” operations, little Roblin’s health deteriorated! The most fatal thing is that his body began to become paralyzed.
   I saw that my husband, who used to be strong and energetic in the past, became weak and haggard, and sometimes lost his temper because he could not work normally. His wife Emily was so distressed that she burst into tears. She was worried that her husband would not think about it and would commit suicide, so she almost never left him.
   Staying by little Roblin’s side, Emily always showed a relaxed look, comforting and encouraging him over and over again, saying: “Dear, no matter what, I will be by your side. Please believe that medicine is constantly improving. Sooner or later, One day you will stand up…”
   With his wife’s patient comfort, little Roblin’s mood finally stabilized. He was grateful for his wife’s meticulous care and said firmly to Emily: “Don’t worry, I will be fine, because the bridge has not been completed yet, so I can’t fall down yet!” At first, little Roblin could barely hold himself up and sit up
   . In a wheelchair, his wife escorted him to the bridge construction site. Later, as his condition continued to worsen, he could no longer go to the construction site.
   After the city government heard the news, it wanted to hand over the command of the bridge construction project to another bridge architect. But young Roebling refused to bow his head in front of the illness. He told the government officials who came to visit: “The bridge building plan was left by my father. I must fulfill his legacy and build the Brooklyn Bridge. This is what we Roebling The pride of the family!”
   To this end, the city government built a temporary villa near the construction site to facilitate young Roblin’s work.
   And little Roebling may be the most peculiar person in the history of architecture! Since he could not arrive at the construction site in person, he could only watch the construction progress of the bridge with a telescope on his window sill every day, and then dictate various instructions, which were recorded by his wife Emily and handed over to the construction workers.
   In order to make her work smoother, Emily, with the help of her husband, mastered the key points of knowledge such as mechanical calculations, material properties, and suspension nodes in a short period of time. She also assumed the dual role of nurse and assistant to the chief engineer!
   She told her friends: “Building the Brooklyn Bridge is a mission that both of us must undertake together. The completion of this great global project requires not only sweat, blood and even life, but also perseverance and determination. This bridge It’s our spiritual support!”
   With the help of his wife Emily, the construction process of the bridge was progressing in an orderly manner, but little Roblin’s body was deteriorating. In the end, except for one finger that could still move, his entire limbs became Numbness stiffened.
  What is extremely frightening is that he also gradually lost his language function. As soon as the unfortunate news came out, the issue of bridge construction once again aroused in society.
  People thought that little Roebling was completely disabled and could no longer direct the entire project.
   All construction of the Brooklyn Bridge was based on the plan left by the elder Roebling. Only the younger Roebling could fully grasp the essence of this complicated plan.
  Even if another bridge expert is appointed as the commander-in-chief, it will still take time to delve into the interpretation bit by bit in order to understand the secrets of the plan.
   Even so, in view of Little Roebling’s condition, the New York City government had to make a plan to replace the chief engineer, but Emily worked hard to mobilize all citizens to support her husband, and she personally delivered a speech to the American Society of Civil Engineering. This is the first time for a woman to give a speech in a male field like engineering projects!
   After the speech, the national bridge board of directors and citizen representatives will vote. In the end, sober-minded professionals voted 7:1 to support Roblin Jr. to continue serving as the chief engineer of the bridge construction.
   While Emily was working hard to regain the overall command of the bridge construction for her husband, the passion in the heart of little Roebling, who was paralyzed in bed, was not extinguished. Although he has lost the ability to move and speak, his mind is as sharp as ever.
   Little Roebling was determined to build the bridge that the father and son had spent a lot of effort designing. One day, an idea suddenly flashed in his mind, and he came up with a way to use the finger he could move to communicate with others and fight for the final battle to build the bridge!
   He tapped his finger rhythmically on his wife Emily’s arm to communicate in code and exchange ideas with her.
  His wife then conveyed his design intentions to the engineers who were still building the bridge.
  A century-old bridge that will forever be remembered in history and become a landmark.
   The hard work pays off! Amidst such hardships and hardships, Emily used this method of typing codes for 11 years to assist her husband in supervising the construction of the bridge, interviewing personnel, and solving various problems and difficulties encountered in the construction of the bridge. The majestic bridge was completed.
   At the end of 1882, the Brooklyn Bridge project was announced to be completed! After a series of decorations and beautifications such as setting up wires, installing electric lights and expanding the green belt, the ribbon-cutting ceremony was officially held on May 24, 1883. About 150,000 New Yorkers attended this grand event, and U.S. President Chester Alan Arthur personally cut the ribbon.
   President Chester delivered an impassioned speech: “The Brooklyn Bridge is not only New York, but also a great project recorded in the history of mankind. It deserves to be an architectural miracle, and the occurrence of this miracle is attributed to the Roebling father and son. Especially little Roebling, who was physically disabled and strong-willed, but refused to surrender to fate. He actually built the eighth wonder of the world, the Brooklyn Bridge, with one finger…” After the ribbon-cutting ceremony,
   President Chester Allen ·Arthur specially rushed to the residence of Roebling Jr., who was receiving treatment in a nursing home in Boston, and expressed condolences and gratitude on behalf of the American public. The president not only praised Little Roebling for the miracle he created with one finger, but also solemnly commended Little Roebling’s wife Emily!

   At that time, many people even believed that Emily’s ability and contribution in supervising the on-site construction of the bridge were far greater than that of Roebling Jr. as the chief engineer. She had great achievements and great ambitions.
   President Chester requested that the names of the Roeblings and Emily be engraved on the Brooklyn Bridge at the same time. To this day, there is a plaque dedicated to Emily on the Brooklyn Bridge, which reads: “Her faith and courage helped her seriously ill husband, Colonel Washington Roebling, complete the construction of the bridge.” 11 years later
   , With such a complex project construction and a husband who is paralyzed in bed… one can imagine Emily’s hardship. She and Little Roblin are no longer an ordinary couple, but comrades and collaborators with a common goal.
   The Brooklyn Bridge designed by Roebling and his sons has an extremely safe structure. The calculated value of the truss structure is five times higher than the safety factor. Therefore, after more than a hundred years, this bridge is still standing!
   Today, the Brooklyn Bridge is a must-see for tourists from all over the world. Brooklyn is a cable-stayed suspension bridge, and its Gothic architectural style looks deep and mysterious.
   The entire bridge spans the East River in New York, with a total length of 1,834 meters, connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan Island in New York. It is the first suspension bridge in the world mainly made of steel.
   When it was completed, it was hailed as the eighth wonder of the world and one of the seven great engineering miracles across the world during the Industrial Revolution era!
   Its bridge body is suspended more than 40 meters above the water by tens of thousands of steel cables, like a giant dragon descending from the sky, connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan Island, the world’s financial center. No matter who sees this bridge for the first time, they will be impressed by its majestic spirit and magnificence, and can’t help but admire it!
   In 1964, the Brooklyn Bridge officially became a National Historic Landmark. In 1972, it was selected as an international civil engineering historical monument. Every year on July 4th, the night of the American Revolutionary War Memorial, the U.S. government holds a fireworks show near the bridge to celebrate. In 1983, when celebrating the centenary of the Brooklyn Bridge’s completion and opening to traffic, the United States issued a 20-cent stamp to commemorate it.
   The Brooklyn Bridge is divided into two levels, the lower level is for cars, and the upper level is for pedestrians and bicycles. However, in recent years, scenic passages have been opened for tourists to travel and sightsee.
  Because the scenery here is elegant and unique, you can enjoy the famous Statue of Liberty, Manhattan skyscrapers, Brooklyn Street Garden and many other scenic spots while walking on the bridge. Interestingly, the majestic Brooklyn Bridge has been the location of many movies, such as “The Fifth Element”, “Godzilla”, “Gangs of New York”, “Mission: Impossible 3”, “Scent of a Woman” and “Once Upon a Time in America” ​​classic blockbusters The heroic appearance of this bridge is everywhere.
   The author of “The Man Who Built the Bridge: A Biography of Washington Roebling” once wrote: “The Brooklyn Bridge is an immortal monument to Washington Roebling, an extraordinary symbol that not only symbolizes humanity in the 19th century The idea of ​​progress also symbolizes a person’s perseverance in the face of hardships!”
   In this world, the reason why many people do not succeed is not that they lack wisdom, but that they lack the courage to continue when facing difficulties and ups and downs. Since one finger can build a bridge, what else is impossible?